Tell anyone you are about to interview Kathryn Hahn and the response is inevitably the same: “I love her!”
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Frankly, what is there not to love about Hahn? Whether people instantly recall her wildly comedic turns in Bad Moms, Step Brothers, or Anchorman, or her more grounded performance in Transparent, or even her more dramatic work in Revolutionary Road and Captain Fantastic, Hahn has always left her mark as the woman you adore, connect with and, subsequently, would like to get to know better.
Therefore, an interview with her raises a lot of questions, like, is she nice? Yes, she’s lovely. Is she down-to-earth? Oh, yes. Is she as funny as she comes across on-screen? Her friends, Hahn reckons, would say yes—they would also let you know she’s messy, self-deprecating, and, she adds, overly apologetic. “I’m historically the friend with whom you would go through an entire evening and then you would get a million texts after saying, ‘Oh, my god. Did I say something?’ ‘No.’ ‘Are you sure?’ ‘Yes.’”
What she isn’t, Hahn admits the day after her photo shoot for this magazine, is comfortable in the spotlight. “No, no, no,” she laughs. “This is not my comfort zone at all. I’m a little bit more of a moving target. I play better when I’m working with somebody.”
Hahn may simply have to get used to being the center of attention. This fall, she is not only releasing her first children’s book, My Wish for You: Lessons From My Six-Year-Old Daughter, she is also co-starring in the widely anticipated anthology series The Romanoffs from Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner. But maybe most importantly, Private Life—the independent film for which Hahn received much critical acclaim when it premiered at Sundance Film Festival this spring—finally released on Netflix October 5.
Billed as a dark comedy, Private Life tells the story of a couple desperately trying to become parents through all means necessary and putting their relationship on edge in the process. Hahn recalls being so drawn to Tamara Jenkins’ emotional script that she flew herself to New York for a dinner, simply to meet with the filmmaker. “The Savages [which Jenkins wrote and directed] is one of my favorite films, and I just wanted to play with her so badly,” she says. “This story is profound; the writing is incredible; and the subject matter is so deep.”
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As a mother of two, Hahn immediately felt a deep connection to the script, loosely based on Jenkins’ own experience with infertility. “I became a mom when I was 35,” she says. “It was not as easy as we had assumed. Even at 35, I was considered a geriatric mother, which was certainly a surprise for both of us when a doctor said that to me. I think I related because I could only imagine that ache of [not being able to conceive].”
Speaking of playing better with others, Hahn can’t stop gushing about her co-star Paul Giamatti, who portrays her husband in the film. “He is clearly a national treasure, and he’s such an unbelievable artist and actor. I was nervous because he’s Paul freaking Giamatti,” she says. “But he is so generous that he lifts you up. He puts you at ease.” Their on-screen intimacy was all the more important, as each day of filming built up to intense scenes of a couple trying not to unravel under extreme emotional pressure.
Asked what she looks for in a part these days, the answer is a long sequence of modest, “Gosh, I don’t knows,” but it seems like she does know: It’s more that the idea of actually being able to choose your own path was hard-earned. “I didn’t have the luxury for a long time of being able to ask those questions,” she says. Now, with Hahn able to pick what comes next, she finds the answer is almost always the same. “I think the older I get, what is more interesting to me are the people around a project,” she says. “It’s such a collaborative process. There are so many creative people I’d love to get in the ring with and see how their brains work.”
Any project also has to fall in line with what’s best for the family, which consists of her husband of 16 years, fellow actor-writer Ethan Sandler; and their two children—neither of whom have any idea how cool other people find their mother. “Are you kidding me? No, in fact, we had a small school assembly today, and my son had to stop us at the door and tell us, ‘Please, just don’t say anything.’ Basically, he’s like, don’t ever talk in public when we’re with him,” she admits. “What are you gonna do? Your parents are never going to be cool.”
Not aiding her hip factor with her kids is the fact that none of Hahn’s work to date—with the exception of the animated Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation—is suitable for a young audience. “That’s the other thing; my kids can’t ever see anything I’ve done. They will never, ever see anything,” she insists adamantly between gasps of that familiar laugh.
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What her often delightfully raunchy career has enabled her to do is keep her work life separate from her family life. And such an eclectic career, playing many different types of characters, has meant that, in her spare time, Hahn and her family fly happily under the radar. “Some people stop me sometimes and it’s sweet, but it’s not ever a huge deal,” she says. “If I can just continue to live that kind of a life, I would be so happy. For my kids, too, because they don’t feel totally swept up. It doesn’t feel bananas.”
After two decades in the business, Hahn has seen what bananas looks like. “I’m always in awe of those friends of mine who are able to pull it off with their children with such grace. I really am,” she says. “It looks difficult. I don’t have to do that.”
Hahn, who grew up in Cleveland, describes what appears to be a far more low-key existence. A vacation at an Airbnb in Joshua Tree, Calif.; a pit stop at The Old Spaghetti Factory; a recent family reunion in Ohio with a visit to the amusement park; a 20-something-year relationship to a guy she describes as “the most interesting man I’ve ever met.” It all seems so… normal. “It’s awesome,” she admits. “I really feel like I have a crazy, fascinating work life, but it really is peanuts to my real life.”
Yet as Hahn’s career continues its upward trajectory with roles such as Rachel in Private Life and the lead in the upcoming HBO comedy Mrs. Fletcher, it wouldn’t be a stretch to predict a lot more photo shoots in her future. If it’s the byproduct of something she feels as passionate about as Private Life, then so be it. “Well, you know, to be able to dance around and listen to fun music and try on really fancy clothes, what’s there to complain about? Not one damn thing.”
Photography courtesy Andrew Eccles